Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Immunization highlights: 2011

New vaccines, new opportunities

WHO's impact in supporting more countries to introduce new vaccines

A nurse giving the pneumococcal vaccine to a child during the launch ceremony in Nairobi for the vaccine's introduction in Kenya, 14 February 2011
GAVI/11/Riccardo Gangale

The demand for new and underused vaccines is rising. In 2011, WHO had supported the introduction of the following vaccines:

  • human papillomavirus vaccines in 6 countries and areas: Argentina, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Niue, Peru and Rwanda.
  • pneumococcal vaccines in 16 countries: Albania, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Sierra Leone and Yemen.
  • rotavirus vaccine in one country: Sudan North.

These introductions represent a major milestone ― the gap between access to new vaccines between developed and developing countries is shortening; it is extraordinary to see a new vaccine launched in a developing country within one to two years of its introduction in the Americas and Europe, while in the past, it has taken several years (averaging 15 years) between the introduction of new vaccines in developed and developing countries.

Donors commit vaccine funding to achieve historic milestone in global health

In June 2011, a historical pledging conference, where presidents, prime ministers, ministers and high-level officials from donor and developing countries convened to show their support for global immunization. Major public and private donors in global health have now committed $4.3 billion, enabling us to reach more children faster than planned and to accelerate the introduction of new vaccines. Vaccine manufacturers have also announced that they will contribute by offering lower prices on a range of life-saving vaccines, including a two-thirds reduction on the rotavirus vaccine. The increased support is timely. Seventy-five GAVI applications from 50 countries were submitted ― nearly double the previous record in 2007 ― for introducing vaccines such as Hib, penumococal, rotavirus, meningitis A, measles second dose and yellow fever. The increased funding committed by the donor community will allow the GAVI Alliance to fully fund approved applications. This unprecedented demand is the direct result of the active and strong technical support provided by WHO staff at all levels ― global, regional and country ― to the Ministries of Health.

WHO supports GAVI Board decision to open a funding window for human papillomavirus and rubella vaccines

The opening of new GAVI "funding windows" for human papillomavirus and rubella vaccines means that the 57 countries eligible for support from the GAVI Alliance can apply for funding to introduce these vaccines in their immunization programmes. The GAVI Board's decision is in accordance with WHO recommendations on inclusion of both vaccines in national immunization programmes. As is the case for other funding windows, only vaccines prequalified by WHO will be supplied to countries using funds from the GAVI Alliance. WHO will continue to collaborate with national immunization programmes planning to introduce these vaccines, providing technical support in the areas of logistics management, reaching age groups beyond infancy, and setting up effective systems for monitoring of adverse events following immunization.

"The decision by the GAVI Board to invite countries to apply for funding for introduction of human papillomavirus and rubella vaccines is great news for developing countries. The protection afforded by the HPV vaccine will save many more women from the pain and suffering caused by cervical cancer. Availability of funding for rubella vaccine will prevent the severe birth defects that result from rubella infection in early pregnancy and give a much-needed boost to countries' efforts to eliminate both measles and rubella."

Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General, Family, Women's and Children's Health

Respective roles of global immunization partners

WHO is the United Nations specialized agency for health and a founding partner of the GAVI Alliance. GAVI depends on WHO's guidance on technical issues for the framing of its funding policies. WHO also plays a key role in supporting countries both in preparing their applications for GAVI funding and in the subsequent implentation and monitoring of activities.

The Meningitis Vaccine Project - where we are today

At the end of 2011, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria have vaccinated more than 32 million individuals aged 1-29 years with the new meningococcal A conjugate vaccine, MenAfriVac, which has the potential to eliminate the leading cause of meningitis epidemics in Africa. Developed through collaboration between the Meningitis Vaccine Project (WHO and the international non-profit organization PATH), an Indian vaccine manufacturer and public health officials in India and several African countries, the vaccine is superior to existing meningococcal vaccines in several ways: the duration of protection is longer, it protects young children, it has the potential to generate herd immunity, and is sold at a price affordable for Africa.

It is expected that, by 2016, 26 African countries in the region known as the "meningitis belt", will have introduced the vaccine in mass campaigns, with a total of about 300 million people vaccinated. The introduction of the vaccine was only possible following years of clinical trials. The human trials began six years ago, in India. Since then, nearly 10 000 people have participated in trials in the Gambia, Ghana, India, Mali and Senegal. Clinical trials are continuing — to determine the duration of protection conferred by the vaccine, and the optimum schedule for its future introduction into routine immunization programmes. For more information, see:

"The [MenAfrVac] vaccine was developed, in record time, and at about one-tenth of the cost usually needed to bring a product through development to the market. This offers evidence of a welcome new trend. Africa is the first to receive the best technology that the world, working together, can offer."

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General in her opening address at the 64th World Health Assembly, May 2011.

Dramatic fall in cases of meningitis after new vaccine introduction

Six months after the successful introduction of a new vaccine in December 2010, aimed at eliminating the primary cause of meningitis epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger reported the lowest number of confirmed meningitis A cases ever recorded during an epidemic season. Continuing surveillance for cases of meningitis and monitoring of vaccination coverage will be crucial to confirm the impact of the vaccine as it is introduced across the meningitis belt.